|Chapter 1:||Reading Post-Colonial Australia|
layered rather than bound to a simple model of binary resistance. The painting represents the contest between the power of Western ocularcentrism and the inscription of Aboriginal art upon the surface of the text of place. The single strand of barbed wire signifies the further inscription of colonial occupation, the bounding and fencing of place as property. The palimpsest of the painting inscribes not only a spatial history but also a gradation of modes of representation, modes of seeing and being in place.
One of the enduring conflicts in Australian cultural consciousness was the conflict between the incomprehensible vastness of Australian space and the colonial necessity of borders—inscribed on maps and erected in post and wire. The early settlers brought with them a deeply ingrained sense of place as property. John Locke's discussion of property in the Second Treatise of Government (bk. 2, ch. 5)outlines the rationale for the expropriation of lands by the “advanced” agrarian communities from hunter-gatherer societies: “As much Land as a Man Tills, Plants, Improves, Cultivates and can use the Product of, so much is his Property. He by his Labour does, as it were, inclose it from the Common” (332; original emphasis). “Place” was at first a defense against displacement, and the way in which this could be achieved was by the establishment of boundaries between inside and outside, civilization and the wild. We get a clear sense of this in Onus’ painting “Fences,Fences,Fences.” Stan Parker, in White's The Tree of Man,struggles to apprehend a sense of the sacred, of the numinous dimension of life, as he grubs his property: “It was, by this time, almost enclosed. But what else was his he could not say. Would his life of longing be lived behind wire fences? His eyes were assuming a distance from looking into distances …” (38). White is uncannily prescient about the futility of Stan Parker's attempt to erect boundaries around his land: do they enclose and domesticate, confirm ownership? Or do they imprison? Fences are the metonym of the constrictions of European habitation in the “horizonal sublime” of Australian space (Ashcroft, “Simulation”).